How many kids started school without laptops? N.J. doesn’t know and that’s a big problem, lawmaker says.

Kelly Heyboer | September 11, 2020 | NJ Advance Media |

 

With an estimated 193,000 New Jersey students without computers or internet access at home, New Jersey launched an ambitious grant program in July to give public school districts $115 million to quickly buy laptops and wifi hotspots.

But, as the majority of students return to class this month with either all-remote or hybrid classes, New Jersey education officials say they aren’t sure how many of those kids now have computers for home learning.

Faced with questions about the “digital divide” problem at Thursday’s legislative budget hearing in Trenton, interim state Education Commissioner Kevin Dehmer said the state isn’t tracking how many students have received devices so far under the program.

“I don’t know how many are actually available. But we’ve identified funding through this program … for all of those students,” Dehmer said.

Under the process, districts order devices for students, then ask the state for reimbursement for the money, the commissioner said. But global shortages of Chromebooks, wifi hotspots and other devices have delayed shipments in an unknown number of New Jersey schools.

Sen. Teresa Ruiz, head of the state Senate Education Committee, said Dehmer’s response was unacceptable.

“The fact that the repository of information, which is the Department (of Education), can’t report to the Legislature how many students are still disconnected is a huge red flag for all of us,” Ruiz said at the hearing.

 

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